With Hard Work Comes Opportunity

by Iva Kestrankova (Photo courtesy of Trina Wong)

After 32 years of juggling her automotive career with many outdoor activities, Trina Wong recently announced her well-deserved early retirement to commit fully to her family and doing what she loves.

When Trina Wong started with Klassic Auto Body, she did not have any automotive experience, but thanks to her perseverance and hard work, she managed to work her way up in the company. She started as a detailer in Phil Rolls’s collision repair shop up in Prince George at age 19. Nobody would have guessed then that this was the beginning of a 32-year career.

Phil owned the 12,000-square-foot shop since 1988 when he bought it out of bankruptcy. He decided to keep the name and start from scratch. The business soon took off and Phil bought a second shop in Prince George, which was run by his wife.

In 1989, Phil signed up Klassic Auto Body as an ARA member. Later on, he got more involved with the association, being elected to represent the ARA locally.

“When Trina started working with me, she started from the bottom, washing the cars,” Phil recalled, adding that he noticed Trina’s good work ethic and her potential to grow even at that early stage. So, whenever there was a vacant position within the shop, he offered it to Trina. She soon moved on to do payroll and accounts receivable, which she continued to do even after Klassic Auto Body moved to a bigger facility—its current location, on Quinn Street.

"Some of them were surprised that I know how to estimate, but a lot of them were actually very impressed.”

The next opportunity for Trina to expand her skills arose when ICBC required all contracted facilities to upgrade their technology. “Phil, and Wayne [Tanemura—who was a manager at that time]—had a hard time with the computer systems, so I ended up training Phil’s daughter to do my job, payroll and receivables, and I took on finalizing all the claims and most of the computer part of it.”

In the late 1990s, Phil decided to retire and offered to sell the business to his key employees. Trina and Wayne were interested, and they bought the shop in 2000. As new owners, they divided the responsibilities, with Wayne running the front operations of
the business while Trina did the estimating, designated work to technicians, and moved the cars around to maintain the right flow. After about two years, their financial situation was stable enough to afford hiring an assistant.

When Trina and Wayne took over Klassic Auto Body from Phil, they renamed it “P.G. Klassic Autobody.” Over the years, the shop garnered a reputation as a top-tier collision shop, which Phil, Trina, and Wayne significantly contributed to. “We had a huge repeat clientele,” said Trina. “I think it was because of the quality service we provided.”

Reflecting back on her beginnings in the industry and how she moved up the ladder to finally become a manager and business owner, Trina said she never had any issues with others accepting her as a woman in her role in the shop, but it changed once she bought the business. As she said, for the first month or two, some staff, especially long-time employees, had problems respecting her as their new boss. “They expected a huge change in my attitude, but they didn’t see that. I treated them the same way as when I was working with them,” said Trina. “Eventually, it turned out really well. They took it all in.”

Similar reactions came from some of the male customers who were questioning her skills because of her gender. “Some of them were surprised that I know how to estimate, but a lot of them were actually very impressed,” said Trina, adding that being a woman also gives her some advantages. “I think I am a little pickier than men. My employees would always say, ‘You have eyeballs like a hawk,’ because I always catch everything.”

When speaking about her staff, Trina recognizes how fortunate she was to work with great professionals who performed well and stayed with the company for many years. She also expressed similar gratitude when talking about Phil and Wayne. “They were both phenomenal. Phil was a great boss and Wayne was an amazing partner. We just worked very well together.”

"I started out working when I was between grade six and seven and I never took any time off, even when I had my kids.”

When Wayne retired in 2014 and Trina bought his share, she decided to run the business on her own. “I realized I was never
going to get a better partner than him.” However, she was not left without help for long. Her husband, Kelly, whose background was running logging outfitters, decided to close his business and start working in Trina’s shop as an estimator.

Over the years of engaging with customers, many of the regulars became Trina and Kelly’s good friends. “‘Till this day we plan some hunting and fishing trips with them,” she said. “And it all started with fixing their cars.”

Spending time in nature is a great passion for Trina and her family, as they are all outdoors enthusiasts. Besides fishing and hunting, they like hiking, camping, and riding horses. Trina’s daughter is a horse trainer in Alberta and her son, who has Red Seal certification in construction, is also a guide and outfitter.

Having such a big variety of hobbies, Trina and her husband always used up their vacations to enjoy their favourite sports.
However, now having their first grandchild, who lives an eight-hour drive away, in Alberta, they realized they did not have enough time to be with her. So, they decided to sell the business in March 2021.

“People kept asking, why did I retire? It wasn’t because of my staff or customers, it wasn’t because of ICBC. ICBC was fantastic over
the years,” said Trina. The real reason she left the industry is to have the opportunity to do what she really wants to do in her life, while still being in good health. “I started out working when I was between grade six and seven and I never took any time off, even when I had my kids,” she said.

Reminiscing about her more than three decades in the automotive industry, Trina said that she never felt she was being excluded or disadvantaged because she is a woman. Her hard work always opened up new opportunities for her. “When she retired, she came down to visit me and thank me for the opportunity,” said Phil, who is now enjoying his 21st year of retirement.